updated 12/15/2008 9:00:01 PM ET 2008-12-16T02:00:01

Rescue teams battled strong waves and winds Tuesday to search for 28 passengers missing after their small overcrowded ferry overturned in rough seas in the northeastern Philippines, officials said.

Four more bodies — three girls and a boy — were retrieved near the mouth of the Cagayan River where the wooden-hulled Maejan capsized after an eight-hour journey Sunday, pushing the death toll to 27, said coast guard spokesman Lt. Gary Dale Gimotea.

Most of the 46 survivors swam to shore in Aparri town in Cagayan province, about half a mile (kilometer) from the site of the accident, he said.

The ferry was traveling from Calayan islands in the Luzon Strait when it encountered strong waves and currents that broke its bamboo outrigger, causing it to flip over.

The rescue operation involving coast guard and navy vessels and air force helicopters was suspended overnight but resumed Tuesday despite the rough weather, Gimotea said.

Coast guard chief Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo said Monday the ferry was authorized to carry only 50 people but twice as many packed on board for a trip to buy Christmas food and other holiday supplies.

He said criminal charges will be filed against the owner and surviving crew members of the 28-ton Maejan.

Tropical storms, badly maintained boats and weak enforcement of safety regulations are often the cause of sea accidents in the sprawling Philippine archipelago.

Last month, a cargo ship sank in rough seas north of Cagayan, and passing vessels plucked 16 of 20 people from shark-infested waters. Weeks earlier, separate storms capsized two passenger boats in the central Philippines, drowning more than 50 people.


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